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This 4.2-billion-year-old fossil could lead to the discovery of life on Mars

The oldest known fossil on Earth could be the key to discovering alien life, researchers believe. The newfound microscopic bacteria unearthed in a rock formation in Quebec, Canada, would have lived in hot ocean vents 4.2 billion years ago — vents that also existed during the same period in the oceans of Mars.

The bacteria is "the strongest evidence yet that similar organisms could also have evolved on Mars, which at the time still had oceans and an atmosphere, and was being bombarded by comets which probably brought the building blocks of life to Earth," The Telegraph writes.

Notably, scientists now have an idea of what to be looking for on the Red Planet. "Early Mars and early Earth are very similar places, so we may expect to find life on both planets at this time," said Matthew Dodd, who is working on the study that is being co-funded by NASA. "We know that life managed to get a foothold and evolve rapidly on Earth. So if we have life evolving in hydrothermal vent systems maybe even 4.2 billion years ago when both planets had liquid water on their surface, then we would expect both planets to develop early life."

Before the primordial tube-like bacteria was discovered in Canada, the oldest known fossil on Earth was 3.4 billion years old, and with it scientists estimated that life started on our planet 3.7 billion years ago. The Quebec discovery pushes that date further back, with life now estimated to have begun as early as 4.5 billion years ago — a mere 100 million years after the Earth was formed.

"It's indeed possible that life started on Mars as well as the Earth, but then fizzled out — maybe leaving some traces that we will discover from future probes," said Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees. Read more about the exciting discovery at The Telegraph.